Humanity’s relationship with cannabis has been all about edibles for thousands of years. To understand what’s really making edibles so hot right now, you’ve got to remember that back in the day, whether you made your own cannabis-infused goodies or got it from a friend, you very often had no idea what to expect in terms of potency. Which led to a lot of bunk brownies and bad outcomes.
Everything started to change, however, when legal cannabis created a market for lab tested, precisely dosed edibles. That’s been a total game changer. Because it turns out people really like to know precisely how potent something is before they put it in their mouth. So they can reasonably gauge its effects in advance and plan accordingly.
While old heads and total newbies alike have been discovering and re-discovering the joys of edibles in droves lately, there’s really nothing new about eating your cannabis instead of smoking them. In fact, most of humanity’s thousands of years relationship with cannabis has been all about edibles. And it’s a proud culinary tradition—one that dates back thousands of years, cuts across continents and cultures, and long precedes the first senseless prohibitions imposed upon this plant.
The earliest records of medicinal cannabis use, come from China (circa 2,727 B.C.), but we don’t have any evidence that those medicating pioneers prepared cannabis into tasty infused food.
Which means to find the first true edible in recorded history, we’ll only have to go back around 3,000 years.
Bhang (circa 1,000 b.c.)
Bhang has long been of cultural significance in India. In Hinduism, bhang takes on special meaning as the plant preferred by Shiva, the god of destruction, who was believed to have used bhang to focus inward and to harness his divine powers for the good of the world.
In the Atharva Veda, one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism, cannabis is named one of the five most sacred plants on Earth. The text also refers to it as a ‘source of happiness’ and a ‘liberator’.
Bhang itself is made in a mortar and pestle, by grinding cannabis into a paste and prepared with milk, water, spices, and sometimes yoghurt.
Mahjoun (circa 1,000 A.D.)
For over a thousand years, the Berbers or Amazighs, of Morocco have made a sweet, savoury mixture of dates, nuts, honey, spices, and hashish : the sweet dish, which has become perhaps the most time-honoured marijuana recipe in the world, is known popularly as mahjoun.
The sweet, savoury treat also found favour among American expats who traveled in Morocco.
Mahjoun aficionados appreciate its smooth, energetic buzz, which is typically felt quickly compared to other edibles – within 20 to 30 minutes, according to some consumers – although you’ll still want to wait it out before eating a bunch, just to be on the safe side – and moves from an enervating and uplifting buzz into a mellow, fuzzy high.
Club Des Hashischins
In 1840, Dr Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a leading French psychiatrist, read a scientific article that claimed Egyptians were impervious to diseases that plagued Europeans because they consumed hashish. His curiosity piqued, Dr. Moreau acquired a sample. After trying it himself a couple of times, he decided to devise a grand experiment.
He created a group and among its members some of the most brilliant minds in France and Europe at the time. These included world famous writers and poets such as Theophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
They were served a carefully-dosed blend of strong coffee, hashish, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, pistachio, orange juice, cantharides, sugar, and butter that they called dawameska, in honor of the concoction’s Middle Eastern origins.
The Cannabis Brownie
Many believe it was Alice B. Toklas who invented the weed brownie. Flashback to 1950s Paris. Alice B, Toklas, writer and partner to fellow famous writer Gertrude Stein, published her notorious cookbook: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Hidden among recipes for chicken and green mashed potatoes is Toklas’ famous Hashish Fudge, also known as the first pot brownie recipe. The recipe contains coriander, cinnamon, dates, almonds, peanuts and, of course, cannabis sativa. Alice counsels her reader, “Two pieces are quite sufficient.”
Hashish fudge is forever linked to Toklas through the Peter Sellers movie, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, which involves a lot of pot brownies. Other references to Alice B. Toklas abound in popular culture, and usually use her cookbook—and her name—to suggest pot brownies. But was it Alice B. Tolkas who invented the weed brownie included in her cookbook?
It was also Brion Gysin who invented the weed brownie as we know it from Tolkas’ cookbook. Gysin contributed his hashish fudge recipe to The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Toklas, who had never made the brownies herself, did not know what cannabis sativa was at the time.
According to Gysin’s own book, Brion Gysin: Tuning into the Multimedia Age, he gave Tolkas the recipe as a joke. Its inclusion in the book’s final publication was a mistake. But what a mistake it was! So was it Gysin who invented the weed brownie?
It would seem that Gysin’s knowledge of hashish fudge came from his time in Northern Africa. During his short-lived stint as owner of a restaurant called the 1001 Nights, Gysin discovered cannabis, which was more popular in Morocco than in Europe at the time.
Gysin gave Toklas the recipe for hashish fudge brownies in the same year that he opened his restaurant in Tangiers. But who invented the weed brownie originally?
We may never know who invented the weed brownie, just as we will never know who took the first toke. However, we do understand that Alice B. Toklas, though synonymous with weed brownies, neither thought of the recipe nor indulged in marijuana. Yet her famed weed brownie is entrenched in trans-continental history.
Before a DEA raid shut down their operations in 2007, Tainted Inc. changed the edibles game by creating the first “branded” cannabis products on the market. They came at a time when California’s medical cannabis system was still emerging, and few in the industry dared to put so public a stamp on their operations. While most edibles available at dispensaries were just anonymous homemade cookies or brownies wrapped in a thin sheet of cellophane, Tainted became a word-of-mouth sensation for their parodies of popular candy bars (like Reefers Peanut Butter Cups and Kif Kat Bars). Along the way, Tainted pointed to a future of professionally produced and packaged edibles, while remaining deeply rooted in underground cannabis culture.